Sunday, April 1, 2007

Modernism in America

In the 1920's when the "Internationtal Style" was taking off around the world the majority of American architects and designers were still designing in the tradition of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, producing works of "eclectic historicism". The work done by architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright at the turn of the century had been almost forgotten and looked upon as a fluke. It was not until the mid-1930's more than a decade after Wright returned from Japan did his work slowly become known. As in today's culture it was first recognized by the young and aspiring designers of the time. When they approached Wright for advice on education he swayed them away from attending architectural school and invited them to apprentice him. Though throughout Wrights life he never acknowledged any influence on his work from other designers it is clear that the "International Style" had an influence upon his work as seen in the unornamented cantilevers and the bands of windows with thin metal frames that dominate his designs. Many other modernist designers had began to filter in to America from places in Europe such as Austria, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Josef Neutra are examples of that movement. Having been influenced highly by the De Stijl use of geometry. They both practiced in California and both had tumultuous professional relationships with Wright. The use of stark white walls outside ,and in that were unornamented, coupled with the use of grey carpeting and built in furniture, their homes represented the modernist style in America. The continuing importation of European modernist style lead to the construction of the first truly modern tall building anywhere, and the first readily visible "International Style" structure in America. It was done by William Lescaze in Philadelphia between 1929 and 1932. The modern structure was shocking to the conservative public that had never before seen true modern architecture. The United states was further inundated by the European modernist when Walter Gropius became the head of the design school at Harvard University in 1937. "Modernism, and particularly the modernism of the International Style, began to replace the tradition-oriented and modernistic directions that existed in the 1920's and 30's" (Pile 379). The now full blown modernist movement in America required furniture manufacturers to fall in line and begin producing furniture for not only homes but commercial buildings as well. Hans Knoll from Germany became one of the most well known and still operating lines of mass produced modern furniture in the US. Half way through the 20th century it was clear that modernism was here to stay and practiced by most American architects and designers. Do you think that modern design in America today would be the same if not for the influx of the European designers to America such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe? If Frank Lloyd Wright had been less opinionated and more tolerant of other designers would he have been able to be even more influential on American modernism by working with other designers on projects? In your opinion has modern design gone to far with the utilitarian clean lined structures that still often times stick out like a sore thumb on a city block? And what designer that immigrated from Europe do you feel had the most lasting effect on modernism in America?

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This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.